Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chicagoland 2013

In August, we took our first little trip as a family!  I had been wanting to take the kids to Chicago for a while, and the opportunity arose for us to pile into the car and make the drive over.  Our plan was to stop at every rest stop to avoid accidents and to keep a book in the kids' hands as much as possible.  I packed some DVDs to use as a last resort, but thankfully we never had to use them!  The kids really are troopers in the car.

The first rest stop included a trip to the vending machine hut outside the main building ... big excitement.

We had lunch at McDonald's, something we almost never do so it was a real treat.  And, as a bonus, the kids got little Smurf figures that they happily played with in the car.  Score!

We were all very excited to see this ...

... but I was much less excited to see this.  Seriously?  And it went up by the time we saw another sign like it.  It was a very sobering stat and yet also very vague.  Moving on ...

As it turns out, there aren't many rest stops on the way to Chicago, and Mollie's poor little bladder just couldn't make it all the way to Schaumberg, so we ended up having to stop in a little suburb just outside the city and make an emergency potty break at a BP station. 

By the time we got to the hotel in Rolling Meadows, we were all a little stir crazy.  Mollie pretended to sleep while Bryson went to check us in.  Of course, as luck would have it, our plan to have the kids rest and settle in at the hotel before heading off to LEGOLAND was derailed when our room turned out not to be ready. 

So, LEGOLAND it was!  We were greeted by a giant giraffe over the door and a huge Albert Einstein head just inside, both made of thousands of Lego pieces, and the kids could not have been more excited.

It probably didn't help that there was a sizeable Lego store just to the left of the entrance.  Such excitement!

Cruel parents that we are, we made them go to LEGOLAND first.  We saw an amazing scale model of Chicago, complete with ferris wheel.

And Mollie made a little friend!

Scary as he was, Mollie dared to pose with a full-size Darth Vader model.

Baylor, though, had had enough of the documentation and just wanted to move on.  (Yes, I took a picture anyway.  Life isn't all happy moments, and I think it's important to remember the less-than-happy moments, too.)

Next up was the Lego Kingdoms dragon ride.  It was the first real ride for both kids, and they were very excited about it.  Baylor wasn't quite big enough to ride on his own, but that worked out okay since we could all go on it with him.

We rode around in this little dragon car and shot at bats and spiders with pretend guns, and Baylor thought this was the highlight of the visit.  Mollie, on the other hand, sat next to me shaking during the entirety of the ride.

Baylor was thrilled to discover that LEGOLAND is a two-story locale, and we took the elevator up to celebrate.

There were a lot more hands-on exhibits on the second floor, and the kids had fun exploring.  You could build a little tower and put it on a shake plate to see how sturdy it is.

They even had a little area just for girls with pastel Legos and adorable little flower-shaped tables at which to build.  It was actually pretty calm in there, and I could have easily spent more time just building with Mollie in there but she soon wanted to see what the guys were doing and we left.

We found the guys building a Lego vehicle together ...

... so they could test it on this awesome ramp!

There was another ride, and since I get motion sick pretty easily these days Bryson was the only one who could take the kids on it.  He took Baylor first, and if we had been thinking I would have stood in line with Mollie so he could just hop off from his ride with Baylor and go with her.  But we didn't, so the guys waited in a long line to ride and enjoyed pedaling and "flying" to their hearts content.

Bryson was a little less than thrilled to find out that Mollie wanted to ride too, but she was so excited that he stood in the long line with her as well.  While we waited to watch them ride, Baylor and I did a little exploring.

Soon enough, it was time for them to ride and Mollie was thrilled!  In fact, it's the one thing she really wants to do again should we visit LEGOLAND anytime soon.

Then we went on a "tour" of the "Lego factory" to "see" how Legos are made.  It was a "tour" of just one room, and while they showed us how Legos are made we didn't actually get to see any being made because this wasn't a real factory.  Baylor did, however, volunteer to push a button as a step in the process of Lego making, and I was surprised and proud that he stepped out of his comfort zone to do so.

Finally, after building and riding and exploring, the kids got to go shopping.  We gave them $30 each to spend on our trip, and both of them decided to spend their money at the Lego store.  Baylor got two Hero Factory guys, and Mollie got a little pink suitcase with a Lego set in it.  It was the only one we could find in the store, and it was just perfect for her.  Both of them were very satisfied with their purchases.

After a pizza dinner, we went back to the hotel and started getting ready for bed.  And by "we" I mean all of us; we were sharing one room so when the kids went to bed so did we.  (Well, Bryson did step out to work on work stuff a little, but he was back pretty soon.)  The kids slept in the same bed for the first time ever, and they did pretty well.

Though we went to bed at about 8:00 p.m., we didn't get as much sleep as I was hoping.  The kids were a bit wound up and thought they needed to pee every five minutes for the first hour or so.  Then they woke up before 7:00 a.m. and didn't understand that it was NOT time to get up yet.  So they asked me every few minutes if it was time to get up.  So, good times.

After 7:00 I let them get up, and the first thing they wanted to do was play with their new Lego sets.  So they did.

Once Bryson and I were showered and packed up for the day, we headed out to breakfast at Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe.

If you ever happen to be needing breakfast or lunch in the Chicagoland area, I highly, HIGHLY recommend this restaurant.  It is outstanding!

Our plan for our second day, Sunday, was to spend the day with my cousin Steve and his girlfriend Katie at the Brookfield Zoo.  Unfortunately, Steve and Katie ran into a bit of trouble and couldn't make it there until about lunch time, so we soldiered on without them.  A must when visiting a zoo, or any large venue for that matter, is a thorough examination of any available maps.

And, when arriving somewhere new, you must raid Mommy's purse for a snack as soon as possible.

We saw some awesome animals and walked all over the place, when it finally felt like it was time for lunch.  And as we were eating, who should arrive but Steve and Katie!  The kids were overjoyed and had SO MUCH to tell them.

While Steve and Katie ate, the kids played on the playground right next to the picnic area.  After that, we kept on exploring.  Steve showed how his wingspan measured up to a condor.

Then Baylor took a shot at it.

Our visit to the reptile house was interesting.  We saw some questionable behavior out of a pair of turtles on one side of a corridor, and on the other side one turtle was attempting to help his buddy get back on his feet.

We saw a lot of animals, but the rhinoceroses were really active and quite beautiful in their own muddy way.

Mollie had a rough time of it at the zoo; not only was she skipping her nap, but she was also the shortest of the bunch and had to try to keep up with everyone.  So she ended getting carried a lot, mostly by me but later on in the afternoon Steve helped out and carried her for a bit.

One of the highlights of our trip to the zoo was our encounter with the naked mole rats!  We have read Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (by Mo Willems) enough times that they were definitely interested in seeing what the real thing looks like.

As the day wore on, we knew it was getting to be time to part ways.  Baylor took it particularly hard ... he has a thing for Katie, after all.

And he thinks Steve's pretty awesome, too.

All that walking around really wore Mollie out, and only a few minutes after we left the zoo we looked back to find her sound asleep.

Amazingly enough, it was a scene that would repeat itself the next morning after another wonderful breakfast at Wildberry, on our way into the city.

She was so tired when we got there that she continued to sleep a little longer on Bryson while we made our way to the parking garage elevator.

Upon hearing all Baylor's excitement about the awesome elevator, though, she woke up and was her perky self again.

The parking garage is near the Chicago trade building, so each floor was a particular color and commodity to help you remember where you parked.  We were on floor nine ... hogs.

Our main goals for the day were to go to the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower and check that out, then head over to Shedd Aquarium to see some aquatic life.  The kids seemed relatively impressed by the Sears Tower, but they certainly did not appreciate all the lines we had to wait in to get to the top.

The line for security was interesting, though, as they had facts and trivia about the building all over the place.

They even had computer screens with trivia quizzes on the walls so you could play while you waited.

After three long lines, one interesting-if-you're-an-adult video on the history of the building, and a very, very quick elevator ride in a very, VERY crammed elevator, and we were at the top.  I think it's safe to say that the kids were a little underwhelmed by the sights from above and mostly wanted to leave.  So that was something.

Both kids had a little money leftover after their spending spree at the Lego store, so they used some of it to buy a Mold-A-Rama statue of the Sears Tower.  Now THAT was exciting for them.

I'll be honest, we really didn't anticipate waiting in so many lines on this trip.  We bought tickets ahead of time online, and most of our line-laden venues were scheduled for Monday, a day we wrongly assumed would be much less busy.  And after waiting for a long time at the Sears Tower, we were not thrilled to see long lines all over the place at Shedd Aquarium.  This one out the front door was particularly impressive; luckily, we got to skip that one.

They've redone the aquarium quite a bit since I last visited, and there were stationary tablets all over the place that you could use to look up what kind of animals you were seeing in a particular exhibit.  Unfortunately, it really drew the kids' attention away from the animals, and we spent a lot of the time telling them that "we didn't come (here) to see the computers ... we came to see the fish!"

And when they weren't focused on the tablets they were transfixed by the maps I gave them to occupy the time while we waited.

In the end, we left the aquarium without having seen everything we had hoped to see.  Both kids were burnt out from three days of sight-seeing and driving around, and two nights of sleeping in the same bed together.  And as we found out the next morning, Mollie was coming down with a doozie of a cold, which accounted for her being so lethargic and needing to be carried much more than usual.

However, in spite of the occasional setback and the ensuing illness that overtook our family for a couple weeks, we had a ton of fun and the kids have been wanting to go back ever since we left.  Success!

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